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    Monday, November 26, 2007
    Thoughts On Lunch

    Here's a cute blog for you to check out: Landmarks at Lunch - it's a collection of reviews and pics of restaurant landmarks in Los Angeles. I am probably thinking about lunch (and landmarks) right now because my folks took me out to lunch today for my birthday: We went to the Spitfire Grill, a little restaurant in the Santa Monica Airport complex. My dad used to eat lunch at this place years ago, when I was a wee thing and we had first moved to Southern California (he was working for Douglas Aircraft at the time, in the field of Aerospace Medicine). In 1964 Aerospace Medicine was a viable career for physicians, and in fact he worked on Skylab and other stuff relating to the Apollo missions, but he eventually tired of the overwhelming bureaucracy involved in working for the government and switched to private practice instead.

    Douglas Aircraft was eventually sold to McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, and operations were moved from Santa Monica, but the airport remained and is now a private airfield. There used to be a very interesting museum here, the Museum of Flying, but it has closed temporarily - though the word is it will reopen in the next few months.

    Going back to lunch (yes we are), a subject that has been occupying me quite a bit in recent months is What to Bring to Work For Lunch. This is why: we moved in June. My office was formerly located across the street from Local Community Hospital, which had the endearing habit of feeding the staff physicians for free - not many hospitals do this today, I might add. When I was growing up my father was on staff at any number of hospitals in Orange County, all of which had doctors' dining rooms and would not blink at comping the doctor's tab or, for that matter, his (it was always his) family's tab. Suffice to say, my warm memories of Sunday lunch all involve hospital cafeterias (but this made sense; my father had to round on his patients anyway, and this allowed him to spend time with us and get work done at the same time. And, we got lunch for free. Oh, you crafty Dad!)

    But I digress. Again. So we are back to me, stranded, on La Cienega, also known in Los Angeles as Restaurant Row. One little catch about this situation is that almost every restaurant on said Row costs a great deal of money to eat at for lunch. One could not do this for long - say, more than a couple of days - without staring at one's wallet and screaming, "Where did all my money go???"

    I quickly realized it was time to brown-bag it. I equally quickly realized that the subject of What to Pack for Lunch involves Deep Thought and perhaps Purchasing Ahead of Time. I cannot get away with tossing some fruit and some cottage cheese into a bag at the last minute and shlepping off to work. Invariably I will scream "I can't handle this" when it comes to lunch, and run down the street to grab an overpriced sandwich at Starbucks, or (perish the thought ) order out. For the fifty-seven thousandth time.

    Here are my personal answers for this problem, and I realize that your mileage may vary, but I can only do what I can do. Herewith - Lunch, Interrupted (by the phone):

    • Hummus. I really like Trader Joe's brand myself. They used to sell a Roasted Pepper and Green Olive Hummus that I would have killed for: sadly, they no longer do, so now I dump regular hummus into the food processor with roasted bottled red peppers (drained) and green olives. This is very good on pita bread with sprouts or sliced celery.

    • Tuna fish. Oh dear God, tuna fish, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee in the food processor with carrots and red onion. I love thee with sweet pickle relish. I love thee with onions, capers, black pepper and dill pickles. And I even kind of like thee with jalapenos and canned peas (no joke; a friend of mine once gave me this recipe, whispering that he loved it. I think it has to be one of those Secret Shame things). Pita bread, regular bread, salad greens... it doesn't matter, I will eat thee any old way.

    • Salad. If salad is to hold me, a) it has to be a really good (and really big) salad and b) it has to be accompanied by something else. Like good Greek-style yogurt or cottage cheese. And maybe a piece of fruit for later. Salad involves a lot of chopping for me, which is not a deal-breaker in itself, but it usually means that Monday is Salad Day so that I can prepare everything Sunday afternoon. (Celery, radishes, carrots, green onions... you get the idea. Let us not forget washing the lettuce, my least favorite chore.)

    • Soup. Soup, how do I love thee... oh wait, I've already done that. Well, soup is great. You have to prepare ahead of time by liking the right soup of course, but I love lentil soup which freezes very well, so that is not a problem. Other soups, such as black bean or vegetable, will do too; just make a big old batch of this stuff and freeze it in containers and you are all set for a while. Should you get sick of soup after one or two days, hey, it's in the freezer, so there is no hurry about finishing it. I have a wonderful lentil soup recipe I stole from Laurie Colwin which I make very frequently so that I can freeze it. This does not really involve actual measurements, but here goes:

    1 cup of lentils, a quart of water or stock, one clove of garlic, one onion, one carrot, one rib of celery. (Dice garlic, carrot, onion and celery.) Some canned tomatoes, or a spoonful of tomato paste, or a diced fresh tomato, or a spoonful or two of leftover tomato-based pasta sauce (you can throw any damn thing into the soup and it will taste fine). If you don't like tomatoes, they are not mandatory by any means, but I usually add a tomato-ey thing. A couple handfuls of diced green beans (or another green veg, such as broccoli rabe, spinach, or kale). I always add the green beans simply because I really like them. Cook above ingredients over low heat for two to three hours: If you want more soup, add more lentils and more water and expand the other ingredients if you want or need to.

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